NSW Farmers supported the industry taking the lead on mandating the use of pain relief during mulesing at its annual conference yesterday, Tuesday July 23.
There was fiery debate when delegates passed the motion to support the mandating of local anaesthetic/analgesic during mulesing through an industry led initiative.
While many farmers agreed pain relief was best practice when it came to mulesing, which is the removal of wool-bearing skin around the breech (buttocks) of a sheep to prevent flystrike, a parasitic infection, they were divided over whether to mandate it or not.
In fact the urgency motion, put forward by Floyd Legge from Cudal, was too close to call and went to a count with 86 for the motion and 54 against.
"We live in a changing world where consumer expectations are different," Mr Legge said.
"But we also must hold onto what is necessary and acknowledge the fact mulesing is a necessary operation for good animal welfare outcomes."
Mr Legge said they must be leaders in the agriculture industry and show the supply chain from farmer to the end user.
"We all must remember the value of any product is what the customer is willing to pay, if we are not willing to produce what customers want then it is worthless," he said in his right of reply.
Chris Kemp, who seconded the motion, said he been at a presentation where they were told there were quite a few companies that had already left Australia to buy wool, which was "disturbing because of mulesing".
For those against the motion, they were concerned that mandating pain relief would open other animal husbandry practices for scrutiny.
Speaking against the motion was Richard Croft who said mandating would be "opening a terrible can of worms".
"Never in my life have I see on the buying side do what they promise," Mr Croft said.
"The next thing, you will have somebody wandering up the shearing board with pain relief spray."
Warren Press from the Uralla branch, who was also against the motion, said he did not want to see an industry of those who mules and those who don't arguing together over whether there was a premium increase between mulesed and unmulesed.
"I think we need to stick together as an industry and talk about best practices rather than mandate," Mr Press said.
NSW Farmers' president James Jackson said the association's mulesing policy was focused on protecting the practice to ensure all farmers had access to effective flystrike management techniques and the highest welfare outcomes are achieved.
Mr Jackson said mulesing was a difficult topic for the Australian sheep industry and there are many varying views within the Association.
"Our members' decision to support mandating pain relief during mulesing through an industry initiative demonstrates our commitment to protecting the practice," Mr Jackson said.
"Mulesing is critical to the Australia sheep industry without an effective alternative for all farmers.
"Our members are concerned by movements in the market to demand non-mulesed wool. This step to support industry driving the mandating of pain relief highlights the need to actively defending the practice.
"Industry must drive this initiative and explain to the market the positive welfare outcomes that mulesing with pain relief delivers.
"It is time that industry started to deliver farmers with a solution to this vexed issue. This is an issue that industry must drive and we are committed to this."